It is interesting to note that this report outlines the Supermarkets stance on this issue. Appearing before a Senate inquiry into Australia’s temporary work visas and exploitation of foreign workers, Woolworths indicated that it was not up to them to enforce the law. Woolworths Head of Trade Relations Ian Dunn advised the committee “we would certainly agree that we have a moral responsibility to ensure that suppliers to us first of all understand the conditions on which we’re willing to accept supply and trade with them and then, secondly, to ensure that they are aware that they need to live up to those standards.”
Is this the way our large Australian Corporations support social policy, corporate responsibility and community development? What happened to the triple bottom line results and social conscience? The onus seems to rest on the grower and no assistance is being provided to resolve the issue.
Is the current situation somewhat clouded by the fact that the unfortunate growers are caught up in a web where the supermarkets are pushing prices down and further reducing the farmers margins. Farm costs and labour costs are ever increasing. They face major restrictions to business development, sustainability and profitability because they do not have control over their labour force. External, sometimes unscrupulous, contractors hold them to ransom. There are not enough suitably trained, experienced, committed, reliable, and productive seasonal workers to go round.
Australian workers do not want to do the production roles that are needed to get our food from paddock to plate and therefore growers need other alternatives. The majority of horticultural producers are in regional areas drawing from a very small population base to fill large numbers of seasonal roles and competing for talent from a myriad of companies needing casual labour. For the past ten years the growers have not had any options other than employ Asian labour via contractors, otherwise our nation will go hungry.
In the Wellington Shire Council area (Gippsland Vic), where Covino Farms is located at Longford, the company has a population base of 14,000 people to source up to 300 seasonal workers per annum, from the nearest major town of Sale. In the East Gippsland Shire Council area the major city of Bairnsdale has a population of 12,000. From this population base, companies, such as OneHarvest/VEGCO; Patties Foods, several major horticulture and agricultural producers and others, source their labour force. Again at times having to utilise external contractors who they believe are legitimately running their own business.
Backpacker or 417 Working Holiday Visa holders are the only other option available. Backpackers are only in Australia for a short period and in the majority of cases do not come back the following season. Growers are continually retraining and intensively supervising the workforce, adding to operational costs and smaller margins. Backpackers are often less motivated and passionate about the job role than growers need them to be to ensure quality product is delivered to the consumer on time. In some areas such as Bairnsdale and Sale/Longford the availability of backpacker accommodation is nonexistent and therefore very limited numbers of potential workers available. In regional areas suitable accommodation is just not available for the required number of workers. Estimations suggest that up to 3000 seasonal workers are needed in just Gippsland to get our food on the table.
Other Visas such as the 457 Visa requires higher level skills to be eligible for the Visa and they would not aspire to doing the semi-skilled/unskilled roles. There is also a lengthy, expensive process to sponsor, engage and secure the required skilled worker.
How could the major retailers help growers and their suppliers? Could they get involved and lobby government collaboratively with their supply chain members and industry to obtain assistance for growers with these workforce challenges. Could the majors review their pricing structure to ensure growers remain profitable and sustainable and are not pushed into using cheap labour to survive. Maybe we, the consumer, is not paying enough for our guaranteed quality fresh produce. Can the food production sector continue to absorb reductions in revenue (Coles- “Prices are Down Down Down”) when labour cost and availability is putting so much pressure on the producers bottom line.
WILL WE HAVE A FOOD PROCESSING AND MANUFACTURING INDUSTRY IN AUSTRALIA IN FUTURE?
WILL WE BE EATING ALL OF OUR FOOD FROM OVERSEAS?
The major issue is the availability of legal foreign seasonal workforce supplied by a reliable approved labour hire contractor that ensures workers are paid as per the Horticulture Award 2010 and treated as we would be expected to be treated. Strategies also need to be developed and implemented to rectify the lack of accommodation for seasonal workers for the horticulture industry.
The Connect Group - Seasonal Workers Australia, a Federal Government Australian Approved Employer of foreign nationals from ten Pacific Island nations and Timor-Leste, CAN supply the workers you need.
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WE HAVE THE SOLUTION – The Pacific Seasonal Worker Program (SWP)
We can provide compliant, experienced, trained, productive and passionate seasonal workers that return year after year, helping the grower sleep better at night and continue to deliver fresh quality food to the nation.
We could work with the major retailers and growers to implement a sustainable workforce strategy for the sector to alleviate all the current unscrupulous behaviour and mitigate the risks currently being experience by the Horticulture Industry.
CONTACT US ON (03) 9792 1949 TO SEE HOW WE CAN HELP YOU
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